In the Beginning
I was bitten by the music bug really early in life. I used to get the old Downbeat and Metronome magazines and catalogs from the instrument companies and paste my face over the photos of the great players who were influencing me. Sadly I lost all of those magazines in a flood, but I still have the photos taken of me at different stages of my life and with various instruments.
I would have given anything to play the vibes like Lionel Hampton or Terry Gibbs. Believe it or not, I took my own picture of me playing the vibes (left). First I moved all of the furniture out of the way in my living room so that I could use the drapes as a background. Then I moved the ironing board and placed the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens telephone books on top of it. Then I put the camera on top of the phone books and set the focus. I took a quick shower and put on my tuxedo and combed my hair. Back then I had a lot of it. I set the camera for automatic and ran back to the vibes and waited the twenty seconds for it to flash automatically and take the picture.
In retrospect this just might have been one of the first “selfies” … or at least mine. You might be interested in knowing that I no longer have the ironing board, the vibes.. and all of that hair.
Here’s my very first professional recording as a 13-year-old singer. Can you believe it?
Lock Stock & Barrel
Leiber & Stoller
I do not even know how to begin to express the amount of respect and gratitude I have for Jerry and Mike. I met them in the early sixties when I was working at Bell Sound Studios which was one of the busier recording studios in New York. My job was setting up the studios for recording sessions and assisting the engineers during the sessions. Leiber and Stoller were one of Bell Sound’s biggest clients.
One day they were recording with a large orchestra and the piano player couldn’t play the part properly. I offered to overdub it (add it afterwards) once they dismissed the orchestra. After I played it, they asked me to come to work for them and play on all of their recording sessions. That very minute was the birth of my recording career. I actually remember that I sensed my musical journey was about to start. I stayed up all night thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead. I stayed at Bell Sound long enough to train someone new and then I went to work for Jerry and Mike.
Their office was located in the famous Brill Building, right in the heart of New York’s theater and music business district. It was interesting to me because I knew that this area of about fifteen or twenty square blocks was going to change my life forever. As I walked to their office I remember thinking to myself what a great opportunity this was, and I was going to make sure that I was ready for it in every way.
I showed up at their office and began to learn from the minute I got there. I watched them as they rehearsed various recording artists and prepared for upcoming recording sessions with the arrangers. It was like going to high school and college at the same time. I learned something new every day just being around their office. These guys were unbelievable. Mike would play the piano and Jerry would sing. There was a creative ambiance in that office that was just magic, and lucky me every day I got to watch the magic show.
Before long I was playing on lots of sessions in many different styles of music. I had a lot of on the job training. The arranging started to happen as I got interested in and learned more about the process of making records. I found it to be absolutely fascinating and creatively fulfilling. It let me execute the musical ideas I was hearing in my head that just playing piano did not allow me to do. While I was living in New York, I was fortunate enough to work with some of the finest musicians in the business.
In 1967, I moved to Los Angeles and started working almost immediately on records. Movies and TV started to happen a few years later. I have said many times that whatever success I may have attained, or whatever awards hang on my wall, there can never be enough words to say thanks to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for helping a young kid piano player from Brooklyn chase his dreams. The truth is … I’m still dreaming.
Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich
When I left Bell Sound Studios to work for Leiber and Stoller I met Jeff and Ellie who were writers signed to Trio Music their publishing firm. They were writing hit songs and making hit records, and I became their arranger and pianist on many of them. Ellie sang back-up on many of the records as well. She had a great sound and real good musical instinct. Whenever I worked with them we always had a lot of fun together.
Jeff was great in the control room. He was very professional and had real good focus and knew exactly what he wanted to hear. This made it easy for the arranger and musicians to give him what he wanted. There were many times I walked out of a recording session we had just finished and I could not stop singing the song we had just recorded. That was Jeff’s secret weapon. He really knew how to write songs people could remember and wanted to walk around singing.
I have said in many interviews and lectures that I have given that I learned so much about making records from Jeff Barry. What I learned from Jeff is something that you do not learn in any school anywhere. He taught me how to throw away the rules and go for the ‘feel.” We were recording Connie Francis for MGM Records and had been in the studio for about two hours working on one song. Jeff said he loved what we were playing but he was not happy with the sound of the kick drum (bass drum back then). The drummer tried everything he knew to make it work.
Jeff was looking for something that he could not describe to us. He gave the band a break. On the break, Jeff was walking around the lounge with a timpani mallet in his hand banging on everything he could find that could perhaps give him the sound he was looking for. A desk drawer, a chair, a pillow etc. I actually remember him taking a Manhattan phone book and trying it also. About fifteen minutes later he said “Artie bring the band back in. I’ve got it.”
Jeff walked into the studio with a plastic trash can which he had emptied. He turned it over and hit it with the mallet. It was just the sound he was looking for. It sounded great. It had a deep tone and it had enough attack to it so it would punch through the guitars and bass. He knew exactly what he wanted to hear. We made another take or two and Jeff ended the session. He was delighted. On that day I learned a very valuable lesson. Never stop reaching for and trying new things, and never ever settle. Stay creative. Sometimes a musical problem can be solved in a very unorthodox way.
After all these years I still think back to that session and with a smile I thank Jeff for the unorthodox, but very valuable lesson. Although we have not worked together in quite a long time, we have remained friends and still stay in touch. He is also one of the nicest people I have ever met in the music business.